Monday, December 31, 2012

What does it mean that Obama wants to see gay marriage approved in Ill.?

It is the fantasy of many an activist trying to persuade Chicago or Illinois government officials to approve their pet cause – get President Barack Obama to say something in support.
OBAMA: Influencing, or meddling in, Ill.?

After all, being able to say that the influence of the White House and Illinois’ political “big guy” (even though Rahm Emanuel thinks that niche belongs to him, it doesn’t) is on your side is a mighty weapon.

FOR OBAMA WOULDN’T be likely to do anything if he thought the cause was a loser. After all, should the president be getting involved in local matters? If he wanted to be a local power-broker, he would have sought a seat in the City Council after serving eight years in the Illinois Senate – instead of going “up and out” to Washington.

So what should we think of the fact that Obama operatives told the Chicago Sun-Times this weekend that the president himself wants the General Assembly to change state laws so that gay couples can be married.

The aide who spoke to the Sun-Times also said that if Obama were still in the state Legislature, he would be a “yes” vote for any bill “that would treat all Illinois couples equally.”

Yet when I speak to people who are on the Statehouse scene, it seems that uncertainty prevails. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he wants the General Assembly to use the few days it has before the transition to a newly-elected Legislature on Jan. 9 to pass something (anything!) that could allow officials to say they have resolved the pension funding problem that has lingered in Illinois for decades.

WILL THERE EVEN be time to consider anything else during those three days that the Senate and House of Representatives will be in session?

And if there is time, will the personal hang-ups of certain legislators (and political fear from others of actually having to take a stand on an issue) keep this particular issue from getting enough support to advance to Quinn for final review – and most likely, its approval?
A busy, or slow, Statehouse? Photo by State of Illinois

During my own education, I did a stint at the American University in Washington, D.C., where I recall several lectures trying to get us to comprehend the very reasons why people “leak” information to news media.

For some, it is their ego at work – “I know something important.” This is more likely a trial balloon.

IF IT TURNS out that the public response to what the Chicago Sun-Times has published is negative, Obama and his aides can always backtrack away from it. Perhaps they’ll even try to deny the president ever said such a thing (the newspaper quotes an aide).

This feels more like a test. It lets people who have an interest in the “gay marriage” issue gauge the support level and figure out if the backlash will be too intense to allow the issue to move forward now.

Although I know some legislators who say that bringing this issue up now on a short time period could be the best way to pass it – since there won’t be all kinds of time for the issue to linger and have its critics poke and prod at it until it deflates into nothingness.

And as the Sun-Times pointed out in their story, some of the political people who might otherwise be afraid of touching the issue can now use the president’s support as political cover for themselves.

I DO BELIEVE this is an issue that will come to Illinois. Considering that I’m old enough to remember the 1996 moment when the then-Republican General Assembly passed a measure that specifically said gay marriages were NOT legitimate in Illinois, it shows just how much we have changed.

But when? I don’t have a clue.

Perhaps Barack Obama is a signal that the time is now in the next week-and-a-half. Then again, the sense of political inertia that tells legislators, “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do next session” may well be strong-enough to tell the president “Pipe down!” for now.


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